3M’s Jay Beecroft is a training directors’ training director. Though his official title— di¬rector of education, training and development— accurately mirrors his lack of personal pretension, it tells next to nothing of his successful 28-year reign as 3M’s top trainer.
Beecroft joined 3M in 1948 as a sales rep and, like so many, became a trainer almost by accident. In Beecroft’s case, the accident was named Bill Gove. Though now a nationally known speaker/trainer, Gove was 3M’s manager of business develop-ment when he met and was impressed by the ex-Army-Air-Corps-pilot-turned-sales rep, Jay Beecroft.
Gove recommended the young Omaha sales rep for the position of corporate sales training supervisor. Beecroft has been a trainer ever since. “It was a perfect assignment for me,” he reflects. “I always had a desire to teach. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
From this initial assignment, providing training for the sales reps and sales managers for the then 30 prod¬uct divisions of 3M, Beecroft has expanded his scope of influence and as¬ignment to the point that his current official job description reads, in part, “…has the responsibility for initiating and coordinating all internal and external personnel education, training and development (for the 85,000 employees of 3M.)”
In addition to his work at 3M, which has taken him to 39 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, South America, North America and the Far East, Beecroft has been an active contributor to the training field in general. He is past-president of the National Society of Sales Training Executives (NSSTE), and, in five separate years, his editorials on the management and development of sales reps and sales managers have received recognition as out¬standing yearly contributions.
He has an NSSTE reputation for bringing the unusual to bear on training; introducing to the society such things as sales management by objectives, the development and refinement and extension of the FAB concept in selling skills training, practical applications of meditation and self-hypnosis techniques and mental imagery. These are only a few ideas he has introduced. In 1968, the Uni¬versity of Omaha awarded Beecroft its outstanding alumni award for his contributions to the field of sales training and development.
Beecroft is a regular guest lecturer at the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin and he is coauthor of The New Handbook of Sales Training, one of the most authoritative sales train¬ing texts.
If all this reads like an amalgam of press releases, vitae and company-approved bio sheets, much of it is ! Getting Jay Beecroft to talk about his past, the past or any form of water-under-the-bridge is difficult. “That’s all old news,” he says. When you at¬tempt to ask him one of those “Where were you when…?” or “Whom do you remember?” questions reporters are so fond of, his eyes glaze over and his tone becomes polite but remote.
Ideas, possibilities, the future and the cutting edge of now are more important to Beecroft than are past triumphs. But it is possible to gain insight into Beecroft’s managerial success formula through his staff and the few published recountings of his coups. According to Eldon E. Arden, manager of 3M’s Innovative Learning Systems Group, one part of the Bee¬croft management style is giving people space to succeed. “I’ve been here 14 years,” says Arden, “and I’ve always had the room and support I’ve needed to experiment and try out new ideas.
“When we decided to look at programmed learning and self-instruction to solve some decentralization of training delivery problems, I was free to call on the best consultants, go to the necessary seminars and workshops, and try out the technology until I was sure we wanted to—and could—go that way. But once we were convinced that self-instruction in particular, and the learning systems approach in general, would work for us, and that we could handle it, we were on the spot. Jay went out and sold the idea to the whole organization—worldwide!
You should have your facts right when you tell Jay that a new idea is sound and that you can deliver. If he agrees, he puts both of you on the line. That much freedom and responsibility makes you awfully cautious some¬times.”
Beecroft denies that he has a special management style or that he’s unique in encouraging training department staffers to explore and risk. “I’m really just following corporate philosophy,” he insists. “3M is a results-oriented organization, no question. But the climate explicitly encourages and rewards entrepreneurship and exploration. And it lets you make the necessary mistakes.”
Unique or not, Beecroft’s management style has been highly effective and his tactical translations exceptionally adept. Today, the corporate education and training department numbers 70 people and 9 functional units. More important, of course, is the undeniable impact it has on the organization.
Arden’s Learning Systems Group develops self-instruction programs which are disseminated through a highly sophisticated worldwide delivery system that emphasizes local responsibility for follow-through and tracking.
In addition, the same group is impacting the selection, development and appraisal systems of the organization through the development of managerial effectiveness models— competency descriptions— that attempt to define and quantify the critical behaviors of management specialties or families across the group, divisional and product lines. Arden sees this as “an outgrowth of our insistence on, and corporate acceptance of, the systems approach.”
In another area, Beecroft charges are developing behavior modeling- based supervisory training programs for decentralized worldwide distribution. And in yet another, SMers are concentrating on career development for everyone from secretaries through engineers.
When pushed, Beecroft will admit that he’s proudest of two successes: first, the system of selling and defining FAB (Features-Advantages-Benefits) in explicit ways, and the use of the FAB data in opening the sales call and developing interest, in handling objections and in closing, as well as the presentation. Secondly, in in¬stalling a B’mod-based performance management program in 3M facilities literally around the world. That story is revealing of Beecroft the leader/manager/strategist/tactician and Beecroft the person.
The first step in this saga was the development of the actual performance management program, an assignment handed to 3M staffer Don Riesberg, manager of special projects. By mid-1975, the program had been through the “development-tryout-cuss-revise” cycle a few times and was judged sound and ready for implementation.
That was Beecroft’s cue to swing into high gear and do one of the things he does best— sell ideas. His basic strategy was to: “Choose the right customer; go where the need was the greatest, where they saw the need for what it was, and work like the devil to produce superior results. After that, it becomes a simple matter of horizontal marketing and vertical selling.”
Tactically, that translates to a lot of Beecroft speech-making to internal management groups, and some one-to-one huddling with internal education and training “ambassadors,” line managers and divisional staffers and trainers who have served on Beecroft’s corporate team as part of their developmental rotation.
In the case of the performance management program, the perfect match for the PM introduction turned out to be 3M Canada. 3M Canada had a personnel development coordinator who believed in the program, had data on the problems it could impact, had been a first-line factory foreman and had the considerable credibility of 30 years with the organization. When Henry Marsh spoke, people in 3M Canada respected what he said.
On top of having found a first-class, dedicated implementation agent, the president of 3M Canada, J. L. Kuhn, and L. W. Lehr, president of 3M’s U. S. operations, were both convinced that the data from Riesberg’s pilot implementations were a strong indicator of the economic impact the PM program could have when implemented on a broad scale. They were correct. In 1977 the program was credited with a $1.835 million savings in Canada, and in 1978 that figure rose to an incredible $4.3 mil¬lion.
The 3M Canada case exemplifies how Beecroft translates the “give-them-space-to-succeed” strategy into sound managerial tactics. As news of the 3M Canada success spread, thanks largely to Beecroft’s stumping activities, other members of the 3M family of companies wanted in. Bee¬croft’s response? “See Don Riesberg. He knews more than anyone.
And check with Henry Marsh. He’s doing the real application work.” Today, in Beecroft’s words, “Don Riesberg is the leader and Henry Marsh has become a resource application of PM for 3M worldwide.” A first-class tactician that Beecroft, not a half-bad behav¬ioral scientist— or staff developer either.
Where is Beecroft focusing his energies these days? As usual, all over the map— both physically and intellectually (see accompanying box).
Accelerating the movement of women into management, combating organizational stress, learning to help people cope with today’s slower career progress rates and the social responsibilities of the modern corporation are all topics about which Beecroft has strong opinions, feels a sense of urgency, and will gladly discuss at edifying length.
But one issue is, as he puts it, “occupying more and more of my think time.” That issue is the “entrepreneur’s paradox.” The idea that the entrepreneur, the person best suited for carving out new ventures and inventing new businesses, is often the worst possible manager of those same enterprises. “In the long run,” says Beecroft, “too many of these entrepreneurs are often the victims of their own strengths. When they try to manage people, their natural strengths become strong liabilities.”
Traditionally, entrepreneurs have sold their companies or moved on to new ventures within the parent com¬pany, and the managerial types have stepped in to turn the venture into a paying proposition.
But that classic model, according to Beecroft, is no longer an affordable luxury—at least not at 3M. “That model wastes talent and doesn’t give the entrepreneur a chance to mature personally or to watch his or her ideas mature,” he says, adding, “If future shock is real and continual change is inevitable, then we have to learn to help the entrepreneur overcome or— better yet— compensate for that lack of managerial ability and excess of natural impatience.”
How? To Beecroft the answer may lie in the newly emerging group process structures. “If the weak manager can learn to let group process make his weakness irrelevant instead of letting it limit his growth, then perhaps he can manage effectively without losing his entrepreneurial edge, his fervor. The entrepreneur’s boss also has to do some growing. He or she must realize that people need to be rewarded for their strengths, not punished for their weaknesses.
Most of us are aware of our weaknesses, and usually, we don’t need the organization to point them out.
We need help compensating for them. Not doing that drives out talent from the organization. I just can’t accept the concept of diminishing returns, not where people are concerned. People have vast potential we don’t tap.”
A few hours with Jay Beecroft could probably convince the severest skeptic that people do indeed have vast potential, that they are an unlimited growth resource. If the words don’t persuade, the personal example does.
Anyone who “can’t retire because I’m too busy; I’m just hitting my stride” is an unlimited growth resource with unlimited growth potential and a pretty good model for other trainers to emulate.
Source : TRAINING Magazine, 1979